A residential building in Saltіvka, a suburb of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, after bombardment by the Russian military. March 9, 2022. The Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-present). Credit: Ukrainian Freedom

A residential building in Saltіvka, a suburb of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, after bombardment by the Russian military. March 9, 2022. Credit: Ukrainian Freedom 

Opinion, Russian Aggression

There can be little doubt that “the lion’s share of responsibility” for Putin’s war in Ukraine “rests with Russian society which by its political passivity and indifference to its own freedom and its own security” opened the way for the Kremlin leader to do whatever he wants to, Aleksandr Podrabinek says.

Alexander Podrabinek

Aleksandr Podrabinek

But Western countries bear responsibility as well because for most of the last two decades, they have “forgiven Putin for actions that would in their own countries have led them to incarcerate those responsible, the longtime human rights campaigner says.

“For more than two decades,” Podrabinek continues, “the West closed its eyes to the outrages being perpetrated in Russia. In 1996, Russia was admitted to the Council of Europe as a kind of ‘advance,’ with the West ignoring the lack of correspondence to Russian practice regarding human rights according to European standards.”

“Violations began immediately,” he points out. But the West did not respond. If it had the current situation might not have occurred. “Now when the Russian army is committing outrages in Europe, the countries of the West have finally laid on Russia effective sanctions;” but those sanctions should have come 20 years ago.

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In 2001, Putin destroyed the popular independent TV channel NTV and began his repression of civil society. Had the West reacted strongly, things would not have reached the war with Georgia, the Anschluss of Crimea or the current invasion of Ukraine. “The authoritarian trend would have been blocked at the very beginning, and a significant part of Russian society would have supported that then.”

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Instead, in that same year, US President George W. Bush “looked into the eyes of Vladimir Putin, felt his soul, and saw someone worthy of trust.” After such comments, who could expect any sanctions and why should Putin have thought that any would be forthcoming in the future.

Unfortunately, the explanation for the West’s failure to do so is “very simple,” Podrabinek says. “The Western countries weren’t seeking peace; they only wanted that there not be a war.”

And that attitude showed that they had failed to understand Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s words that “the antithesis of peace is not war but force.”

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Almost 50 years ago, Solzhenitsyn prophetically wrote that a single hostage and a single hijacking is “a threat to universal peace in just the same way as weapons firing at a state border or a bomb thrown onto the territory of another country,” the human rights campaigner reminds.

Such a view may “seem strange or even an exaggeration,” he continues, “but only at first glance. History teaches us that force” which grows up within one country “inevitably breaks those bounds and goes into others. Such is the nature of despotic regimes. If this is ignored, if despotism is allowed to strengthen, the war becomes inevitable.”

World War Three has already begun

Today, Podrabinek says, the West is paying a heavy price for its mistakes of the last 20 years – there is now a risk of a third world war, there is a massive wave of migrants, and new authoritarian regimes are appearing and uniting to stand against the West and its values of law and human rights.

But it is never too late to learn, he concludes. “It is now time to recognize that by feeding communist China with its investments and by strengthening Beijing’s economic and military power by trading with it, the West risks getting into troubles that will be ten times larger than those the democratic world is facing today with Russia.”

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